TURNABOUT

Josiah Peale kept glancing out the window of the Montana Statesman. Amanda Carpenter smiled to herself. “Josiah, you can’t make the stage get here any quicker,” she reminded him.

Josiah flushed then smiled. “I know, Amanda,” he admitted. “I suppose I’m just anxious to see Austin and Caroline.”

“He could have written you,” Amanda sniffed.

“Caroline wrote me,” Josiah said a little defensively. “Austin was busy. After all, with Caroline inheriting Terence’s stock in the railroad, he had some serious decisions to make.”

Amanda tossed her head. “I don’t see where it was any of Austin’s business,” she continued. “Caroline inherited the stock, not Austin.”

“Now, Amanda,” Josiah said placatingly although his eyes twinkled. “You know women just aren’t suited to understand high finance and business.”

“What!?” Amanda turned quickly on Josiah her eyes flashing angrily. “Do you mean to stand there and...” she paused as she saw Josiah trying to hide a grin. “You keep that up, Josiah, and I’ll begin to think you’re as bad as Clay Mosby!” When Josiah grinned widely, she relaxed. “Women are just as capable of understanding the so-called mysteries of business as well as men. Sometimes even better. Look at Mattie. She runs her own business. And Elizabeth and I knew enough to purchase stock in that railroad of Terence’s.”

“Very true, Amanda,” Josiah said soothingly. “You know I was just teasing.”

“I hope so,” Amanda looked a little mollified. She saw Josiah glance back out the window. “You really think Austin will stay in Denver?”

Josiah shrugged and turned back to his desk. “He’ll do whatever he thinks is right,” he said slowly.

Amanda looked unconvinced.

------------------------

Austin felt more and more relaxed the closer the stage got to Curtis Wells. Denver was a place he didn’t want to return to if possible. He glanced down at Caroline who leaned against him half-asleep and curled his arm closer around her.

Austin had realized he couldn’t match wits with the other stockholders although he’d managed to match drinks with them during an all-night poker game. Most of them reminded him uncomfortably of Mosby. So it was with ill-concealed relief that he agreed with Caroline to back the appointment of Jason Edwards as CEO of the railroad. Elizabeth and Caroline both pointed out that Terence had relied on him as a honest hard-working subordinate. And Austin, while feeling a failure that he couldn’t personally manage Caroline’s inheritance, felt relieved that he wouldn’t lose it for her either.

“Are we almost there?” Caroline asked quietly.

Austin looked at her in surprise. “I didn’t know you were awake,” he said moving his arm so she could sit up. He glanced out the window. “We’ll be there in about a half-hour.” He hesitated. “You know, we could have stayed in Denver if you wanted.”

“I didn’t want to stay there,” Caroline replied evenly as she smoothed back her hair. “I know you want to live here...and I like Curtis Wells.”

“Despite everything?” Austin forced himself to look at Caroline.

His wife’s eyes clouded as she remembered her uncle’s violent death. “Yes,” she nodded slowly. “Austin, I don’t blame you. Uncle Randall...chose what he was going to do.”

Austin slowly exhaled. He still found it hard that Caroline absolved him of blame in her uncle’s death. He supposed she didn’t know that he had been the one to shoot Terence. He squeezed her hand and smiled. “Just don’t let Father pressure you into anything,” he warned. Caroline studied Austin’s face for a moment then smiled. “I don’t think I’ll have any problems with your father, Austin,” she assured him. “He likes me.”

Austin nodded and glanced out the window. He just wished he could be sure Josiah wouldn’t push him.

-----------------------

Call grinned to himself as he watched Josiah anxiously waiting for the stage to arrive. Keeping his voice as neutral as possible, he leaned next to Josiah and spoke softly. “They may have missed the stage, you know.” Josiah slowly turned to see what Call was watching. He saw two trappers arguing with Luther. “I thought they left town,” he murmured.

“Apparently just their women did,” Call watched closely. He casually edged around Josiah preparing to help Luther if necessary.

“Well, they certainly caused enough trouble by themselves,” Josiah remembered with a shudder.

Call relaxed as the two trappers began laughing at something Luther told them. He kept an eye on them, however, as the stage rumbled down the street. He saw Luther raise a hand in greeting as it passed and realized Austin must be inside.

Josiah walked to meet the stage and smiled widely when the door opened and Austin climbed down.

“Welcome back,” Josiah beamed as he hugged his son.

“Thank you, Father,” Austin looked a little bemused at his father’s reaction but returned the hug. Then he turned and helped Caroline down.

“Caroline,” Josiah hugged her next. “You look wonderful.”

“Thank you,” Caroline smiled back at him. “It’s good of you to meet us.”

“Let me Austin,” Josiah offered as the driver began tossing down bags. “I’ll take Caroline to the Dove while you talk with Newt.”

Austin and Call exchanged somewhat confused looks. Call shrugged as Josiah began organizing the luggage.

“Any trouble?” Austin finally asked.

“Not really,” Call shook his head. “Some trappers and their women raised a ruckus for a few days. The women left and Luther’s gettin’ the rest of ‘em outta town now.”

Austin nodded. “I saw them,” he mentioned. He glanced down the street towards the Ambrosia Club. “Luther and Mosby get healed up?”

Call’s eyes narrowed at the mention of Mosby. “Luther’s fine,” he nodded. “Guess Mosby’s healed. Healed enough that he’s been fightin’ with Amanda. Seems she goes over there just ‘bout every day to get him mad ‘bout somethin’. Why you askin’?”

Austin shrugged. “He helped protect Father,” he replied reluctantly. He looked back at Call. “Enona still in town?” he asked innocently.

Call scowled. “In and out,” he admitted before striding off towards Luther.

“Sheriff,” the older of the trappers, Earl Wayne, nodded. “Real sorry ‘bout the trouble my boys caused down at that bawdy house.” He shook his head sorrowfully. “But younguns ‘ll be younguns.”

“Guess so,” Call said evenly. “Be best, though, if you just took ‘em outta here.”

“Aim to do just that,” Earl nodded. “Ed ‘n me’ll switch them boys good for this.” He indicated his brother at his side.

Luther’s eyes twinkled. The ‘boys’ were grown men and would probably give a good account of themselves before they’d be switched.

“Billy and Bart are good boys though,” Earl spit a stream of tobacco juice into the street. “Just high spirited.” He spotted Austin walking towards them pinning on his badge. “Looks like you got yerself another deputy, sheriff.” He shrugged. “Well, sorry again ‘bout the trouble,” Earl started to walk away. “Me and Ed’ll get the boys now.” Luther grinned at Call and followed them towards the jail.

Austin stood behind Call and watched Luther and the trappers. “Trouble?” he asked again.

Call shrugged. “Don’t reckon so,” he decided. “They’re leavin’.” He glanced over his shoulder at Austin. “Surprised to see you back,” he said neutrally. “Figured gettin’ all that money, you’d stay in Denver.”

“Disappointed, Call?” Austin snapped a little surprised. “Sorry about that.” He turned around and walked away.

“Seems marriage ain’t improved your temperament none,” Call said just loud enough for Austin to hear.

----------------------

“Pa, you promised!” Belle Wayne whined.

“Ya shut yer mouth, Belle, afore I shut it for ya!” Earl raised his hand threateningly then smiled grimly as his daughter flinched. “I told ya and told ya. Git yerselves back to the cabin. Me, Ed, and the boys’ll take care of this!”

------------------------

Josiah leaned back in his chair with a contented sigh. He smiled benignly across the table at Caroline and Austin. “I hope you’re not too offended, Caroline, that I’m so pleased you and Austin are going to live here,” he said.

"Of course not,” Caroline couldn’t help but smile back. “There really wasn’t any question about it, was there, Austin?”

Austin flushed slightly. “Not really,” he admitted. He frowned to himself knowing his father had seen his flush. “Amanda still working at the paper?” he asked to change the subject.

“Yes, Austin, Amanda is still working at the paper,” Josiah said patiently. “And, she’s doing a very good job. She really does have an instinct for journalism. Almost as much as Han...” He broke off suddenly and stared down at this plate.

Caroline saw Austin’s angry look across the table at his father. “How is Enona?” Caroline smoothly interceded. “Both Mr. Mosby and Luther seemed to be fine when we left. But she seemed to be having trouble recovering.”

“The bullet chipped a bone in her shoulder,” Josiah mumbled. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and took a deep breath. “But she’s much better. In fact, she even went out bounty hunting.” He forced a smile at Caroline. “I’m afraid I don’t understand her very well. She’s a lovely young woman. Why she would want to be a bountyhunter is beyond me.”

“I’m sure she has her reasons,” Caroline replied softly.

Josiah saw Austin’s angry look was slowly disappearing. “Well,” he sighed. “I’ve kept you up long enough. Thank you for inviting me to dinner.”

“It was our pleasure,” Caroline replied with a smile as Josiah stood. “Good night.”

“Good night, Father,” Austin said coolly.

Josiah nodded and left a sad look on his face.

“I can’t believe he would actually compare my sister to that...” Austin said softly but wrathfully.

Caroline put her hand over Austin’s clenched fist. “I know it hurts, Austin” she said slowly. “But it seems Amanda is different with your father.”

“She’s a user,” Austin tried to relax. “She uses everybody. I don’t want her using my father. Or you.”

----------------------

Sometime in the middle of the night, flames began licking at the side of Twyla’s. Soon, the back of the building was engulfed in flames. Some of the girls ran from the house screaming quickly raising the alarm.

Soon most of the men were working hard to contain the blaze. Call, forever haunted by fire, grimly threw himself into fighting the blaze. Time and again Luther pulled his friend back as part of the building would collapse only to have Call shrug loose and go back.

Clay heard a piercing shriek from the upper floor and glanced up. He caught a glimpse of someone through an upstairs window and started inside the burning building. Austin, having seen the same thing, unthinkingly followed. Together they kicked their way through the parlor choking on acrid smoke as they made their way towards the stairway.

“Austin! No!” Josiah yelled starting towards the building.

“No, Josiah,” Luther grabbed him and held him back. “He’ll be fine.” Then he cursed under his breath as he saw Call dart forward. “Stay here,” he ordered Josiah.

Luther tackled Call just before he got to the front steps. Call rolled away fighting Luther to get free. Luther grimly held on. “You ain’t goin’ in, Call!” he yelled. Using all his strength, he threw Call backwards sprawling in the dirt at Josiah’s feet.

“No, Newt,” Josiah grabbed Call’s arm as he got to his feet. He held onto Call with all his strength. “No. Not you too.”

“Mosby!” a woman’s voice screamed from the landing.

“Florrie!” Clay shouted. “For God’s sake, what are you still doing in here?”

“I can’t get down!” Florrie shouted hysterically.

Austin glanced at the staircase almost totally engulfed in flames. “Jump!” he yelled.

Florrie shook her head staring down at the floor beneath her.

“Florrie, jump now!” Clay urged. “There’s no other way out!”

“I can’t!” she screamed.

Austin grabbed the heavy curtains at the side of the landing and stomped out flames along the ends. “Here!” he yelled swinging them towards Florrie. “Catch them and climb down!”

Clay started to say something then closed his mouth. Coughing, he helped Austin swing them closer to Florrie.

Florrie finally grabbed the curtains and held onto them. She quickly scrambled over the railing and swung onto the curtains intending to slide down.

As Clay had foreseen, Florrie’s weight pulled the curtains loose from their holdings. Florrie screamed as she dropped to the floor. Both Clay and Austin moved under her to break her fall. Ignoring Florrie’s shrieks of anger, Clay wrapped the curtains around her and picked her up. Austin glanced over his shoulder to make sure Clay followed as he began working his way across the parlor.

Dodging burning wood dropping from the ceiling, Austin and Clay made their way out the front door stumbling down the steps.

“Thank you, God,” Josiah closed his eyes in prayer when he saw Austin emerging from the burning building.

Call broke free from Josiah and ran with Luther to where Dr. Cleese was kneeling beside them. “Take deep breaths,” he advised them. “Slowly.”

Florrie nodded gratefully at him but gave both Clay and Austin angry looks that promised revenge in some fashion.

Clay coughed deeply as he watched the building slowly burn. He glanced at Call and Luther. “Everybody else out?” he managed to ask.

“Yep,” Luther nodded looking from one man to the other.

“Don’t you ever do that again!” Call yelled as Austin got to his feet. When Austin didn’t reply, Call shoved him roughly. “You hear me, Austin?!”

Luther grabbed Call who pushed him away. Call looked at the burning building and backed off.

“Newt,” Josiah took Call’s arm gently. When Call tried to pull away, Josiah held on. “Come on, Newt. This fire has to be put out before it spreads.” He looked into Call’s eyes as he spoke softly but firmly. When Call pulled away this time, Josiah let him go.

Call angrily looked back at Austin who was bent over breathing heavily. He nodded curtly at Josiah and joined the others in the bucket brigade.

------------------------

“This one’s a real hellcat,” Earl Wayne grunted as he tossed Enona’s limp body into the back of the wagon. Amanda and Mattie, both bound and gagged, glared at him. Caroline’s limp body lay to one side.

“Now you women listen to me,” Earl said as he checked their bonds. “We don’t mean you no harm. You just be quiet and no harm’ll come to ya. It ain’t you we want.” He shook his head. ‘That one there just fainted. Puny little thing.”

Amanda and Mattie exchanged confused looks.

“Ed, you leave that letter?” Earl demanded.

“Yep,” Ed nodded shortly. He glanced over his brother’s shoulder as his nephews came into view.

“That bawdy house is burnin’ good, Pa,” Billy Wayne whooped. “That’ll teach them ole whores.”

Earl spun around and slapped his son across the face. Billy fell to the ground clutching his face. His younger brother sidled closer to his uncle.

“I told you to make some disturbance,” Earl snapped. “Not burn down the town.”

“Ah, Pa, it’s just a bunch of whores,” Bart Wayne whined.

“Don’t matter,” Earl shook his head. He saw Bart looking at the women and smacked the back of his head with his hand. “You leave them women alone. You hear me, boy?”

“Yeah, Pa,” Bart rubbed the back of his head as he brother slowly got to his feet. “But why can’t we...”

“Cause I said so, that’s why!” Earl shouted. “We’s doin’ this for the girls. You boys’ll have to wait.” He glanced back towards Curtis Wells and shook his head. “Let’s get goin’.”

-----------------------

It was hours after dawn before the blaze was contained. Twyla and her girls stood watching from a distance. Some of the girls sobbed quietly but Twyla merely watched with a set look in her eyes. After a while, Clay walked towards her. “We’ll get it rebuilt,” he promised wiping soot from his face. “In the meantime, you and the girls can stay at the Ambrosia Club.”

Twyla smiled grimly. “Then I know you’ll get me back in business soon,” she said knowing how Mosby preferred to keep his business interests separated.

Clay rolled his eyes. “Not now, Twyla,” he suggested. “Neither of us are in the mood.” He saw Luther walking back down the street with Austin and Josiah.

Slowly Clay walked back to where Call was kicking through the smoldering ashes. Call’s eyes flickered from side to side as he slowly walked from one end of the building’s remains to the other. Not for the first time, he reminded Clay of a bloodhound seeking a scent. “I don’t presume there’s much to find,” he finally spoke up.

Reluctantly, Call shook his head. He slowly picked his way out of the ruins and walked past Clay. “You never should’ve stopped me that night, Mosby,” he muttered.

Clay’s eyes closed wearily but he made no reply.

“Call!” Luther shouted from down the street. “We got trouble!”

“Now what?” Clay looked towards the sky as though seeking some sort of divine guidance.

----------------------

‘we want sheref deptys gamblr. we got yur wimin but dont want em. git to masons crossin quik.’

“Caroline’s gone,” Austin said coldly. Josiah saw Austin’s eyes were icy and his shoulders tensed as though waiting to leap at something...or someone. “So is Amanda,” Josiah added.

Call studied the note again. “You found it at Mattie’s?” he asked Luther.

“Saw the window was busted,” Luther explained with a nod.

“Perhaps it’s exhaustion, but this doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Clay pointed out. “Unless it’s one of Terence’s people who escaped.”

“Could be,” Josiah nodded. “It’s possible.”

“Ain’t likely,” Call snorted. “Any of them that got outta here’s kept runnin’.”

Luther stood and stretched his muscles. “Guess we’ll find out soon enough,” he shrugged.

----------------------

Ed Wayne leaned over and spit tobacco juice into the dirt as the four men approached.

“Wayne?” Luther looked surprised. “You took the women?”

Ed shrugged. “Hand over your guns,” he ordered. When they hesitated, he continued. “I don’t come back with you unarmed, I ain’t gonna say what happens to them women.” He reached out his hand. “And don’t think you’ll jump me and make me take you to them...I won’t.”

Austin glanced at Call then unbuckled his gunbelt. “Caroline better not have been hurt,” he warned tossing it to Ed.

“She weren’t when I left,” Ed glanced at the others. After a moment, they complied.

----------------------

“What could be going on?” Amanda whispered to the others.

“I just hope no one was hurt in that fire,” Mattie said with concern. She glanced at Enona and Caroline. Enona was sporting a lump on her forehead and Caroline was shivering in her nightgown. “Any luck in getting loose, Enona?”

Enona shook her head then grimaced. She glared wrathfully out of the wagon as Earl approached.

Earl reached into the wagon and lifted Caroline out. Caroline’s face paled and Enona struggled to get up.

“Sit down!” Earl yelled. “Told you...ain’t gonna hurt you women.” He untied Caroline and handed her a duster. “Put this on,” he told her. “You’ll catch your death of cold.” He tossed three more into the wagon. “Put ‘em around the others so they’ll stay warm.”

“Thank you,” Caroline murmurred as she climbed back into the wagon.

“You women just stay quiet,” Earl advised. “Come nightfall, you’ll be back in Curtis Wells.” He glanced at Caroline. “Sure wish you weren’t a part of this. You’re a real nice lady.”

Caroline blinked at him in confusion. “Thank you,” she said not sure of what else to say.

“They’re comin’!” Billy Wayne shouted.

“You girls get out here!” Earl shouted at one of the cabins.

The Wayne girls emerged. The four sisters, Belle, Daisy, Suze, and Naomi, all unfortunately resembling their father in various degrees, stared down the hill as their uncle herded the men up the trail. The girls murmurred to each other and grinned.

“They’re here,” Ed grunted as he dismounted.

“Real sorry ‘bout this,” Earl told Call. “But man’s gotta take care of his kin. You boys get off them horses.”

Austin relaxed as he saw Caroline looked unharmed.

“This ‘bout your boys gettin’ thrown in jail?” Call asked in surprise as they dismounted.

“Hell, no,” Earl spit to one side. “Got me them there daughters. If’n their ma had lived, she’d ‘ve found them husbands. Now I gotta do it.” He turned towards his sons. “Untie them women. They can ride these horses back to Curtis Wells.”

Luther’s eyes narrowed. “Just what’s goin’ on, Earl?” he asked carefully.

“Gotta find them girls some husbands,” Earl explained. “They took a shine to you three in town.” He indicated Call, Luther, and Clay. He glanced at Austin and shrugged. “Figure since you’re a deputy, you’ll be good enough for one of them, too.”

The four men looked at each other in stunned silence for a moment. Mattie, climbing down from the wagon tried very hard not to smile as Clay looked at the four Wayne girls and almost shuddered.

“You gotta be jokin’,” Luther finally said.

“Ain’t jokin’,” Earl spit again. Before anyone could move, Earl and his sons had leveled their guns at them. The Wayne daughters climbed over the porch railing and came closer looking at them eagerly.

“I do not believe this,” Clay closed his eyes. He knew this was one story he would never tell Robert.

“I want that one, Pa,” Daisy pointed towards Austin who almost flinched. Daisy, like the rest of her family, was a tall woman with a muscular build.

Earl shrugged. “Whichever one you want,” he said unconcerned.

“No!” Caroline, the long duster dragging in the dirt behind her, suddenly stepped forward. “He’s my husband!”

“Caroline, stay out of this!” Austin started forward then grunted as Bart slammed the butt end of his rifle into Austin’s stomach causing him to fall to his knees.

Daisy turned around and looked down at Caroline. As Enona started forward to help Caroline, she sneered. “I’m gonna enjoy beddin’ that one.”

Caroline gasped then her jaw tightened. She remembered Austin’s belief that he was cursed and how it almost cost her their marriage. “Over my dead body,” she muttered. Quickly clasping her hands together to make one fist, she slammed it upwards with all her strength catching Daisy just below the chin.

Daisy’s eyes widened as her head was snapped back. She slowly fell backwards and lay in the dirt.

Everyone looked in astonishment at Caroline then at Daisy...then back again at Caroline. Caroline also looked at Daisy in surprise, then drew herself up and regally walked over to Austin...her long duster trailing in the dirt. Kneeling next to a very surprised Austin, she looked up at Earl. “I presume that settles that,” she said.

“Git you sister up outta there,” Earl told Billy disgustedly.

“I’d say Austin better stay on Caroline’s good side,” Amanda whispered to Mattie and Enona with a smothered grin.

When Daisy was on her feet, he shook his head. “You can’t even stand up to a little girl like that? You don’t deserve no man. You git in that cabin.”

“But, Pa...” Daisy groaned.

“Git!” Earl roared.

Daisy sulked but obeyed.

Caroline helped Austin stand up. “Austin, I hurt my hand,” she whimpered softly.

Austin just shook his head in complete confusion.

“Guess you won fair and square,” Earl nodded to Caroline. “Didn’t much like takin’ a married man anyways.”

“They’re all married,” Mattie said quickly putting her hands on her hips.

“Don’t hold with women lyin’ to me,” Earl warned. “We was in town a while. Never heard ‘bout them bein’ married.”

“Don’t care if this ones married or not,” Suze Wayne, who looked almost exactly like her father, stomped forward grabbing Mosby’s arm. “I want him.”

“Honey, you can have him,” Amanda sighed. “I’ve been tryin’ to find some fool woman to take him off my hands.”

Clay closed his eyes. “Good God,” he muttered.

“You don’t want him?” Suze looked at Amanda in surprise. “He’s so purty.” She stroked his arm in admiration.

“Looks ain’t everything, honey,” Amanda scoffed. “Believe me.”

Clay glared angrily at Amanda. “Amanda...” he began warningly.

“Come here,” Amanda beckoned to Suze. “I think there’s something you should know before you go any further.”

Suze slowly walked over to Amanda. Remembering how Caroline had knocked her sister down, she kept some space between them. Amanda took her arm and pulled her down to whisper in her ear.

Mattie and Enona exchanged quick glances. Enona’s eyes were twinkling when she saw Call, Luther, and Mosby getting uncomfortable as the two other Wayne girls looked them up and down as though they were horses about to be auctioned off.

“No!” Suze turned and looked at Mosby in astonishment. “Can’t be!”

Amanda shrugged helplessly. “I told you, I’ve been wanting to get rid of him,” she explained. “But I don’t want to cheat you. If you still want him...”

Suze shook her head backing off. “What for?” she looked at Amanda with pity. “Wouldn’t be no good to me.”

Amanda shook her head ruefully as she walked over to Clay. “Just can’t seem to find anybody willing to take you away,” she said regretfully.

Clay saw the deviltry in Amanda’s eyes and winced. “What did you tell her?” he hissed angrily.

Amanda shrugged her eyes dancing with merriment. “Oh, nothing really,” she whispered.

“What ‘bout them?” Earl demanded looking at Mattie and Enona. “They belong to ya?”

Enona glanced at Call. “We have a bond,” she said carefully.

Call recognized the truth of her statement and nodded.

“Guess that one’s yours then,” Earl said disgustedly to Mattie.

“Don’t see no ring on her finger, Pa!” Belle protested.

“Hell,” Luther grinned at Earl. “You know how it is when you get a good woman.”

Mattie flushed as Earl spit to one side. “Yeah, you’re like us,” he nodded. He looked at his daughters. “Sorry, but I ain’t upholdin’ takin’ married men for ya.”

“They ain’t married, Pa!” Belle whined. “And you promised!”

“You shut yer mouth afore I...” Earl raised his hand and Belle quickly ran to the cabin. Suze and Naomi quickly followed.

“Real sorry ‘bout this,” Earl apologized as Ed brought their horses forward. “But I gotta do right by my girls.”

“What about the fire?” Call demanded eying Billy and Bart. “They set it, didn’t they?”

Earl glared at his sons.

“Pa, you can’t let them put us in that jail!” Billy protested.

“No, reckon I can’t,” Earl frowned. “But ya shouldn’t have done it.” He looked at Call. “How ‘bout they’s to come down there and help rebuild that there bawdy house? That settle it up?”

“They gotta stay in jail when they’re not workin’,” Luther said then looked at Call.

Call studied Luther for a moment then nodded. “Guess that’ll be fine,” he decided. “But if they get into more trouble, we’ll have to keep them in jail.”

“Pa!” Bart shouted.

“Shut up!” Earl roared. “Ya do as yer told!” He looked at Luther. “They’ll be there tomorrow morning...early.” He glared at his sons who lowered their heads.

Luther glanced again at Call and nodded. “Fair enough,” he said.

Ed silently handed their guns back them. “Boys’ll bring back the dusters,” he said spitting to one side. “Those ladies’ll need ‘em on the ride back.”

“How do we know those two will show up?” Clay asked in a low voice as they buckled on their guns and took the reins of their horses.

“He gave his word,” Luther pointed out. “They’ll be there even if he has to drag ‘em there.”

“You should know,” Mattie weakly smiled. “After all, you’re like them.”

Luther suddenly glared at her. “Ain’t like them, Mattie,” he angrily denied. “My wife was with me ‘cause she wanted to be. Didn’t have to steal her.” Before Mattie could reply, he turned to Enona. “C’mon, Enona, you can ride with me.” Enona glanced quickly at Mattie then came up behind Luther who kicked his horse into a trot.

“Luther!” Mattie called out. She looked at Call. “I didn’t mean anything...”

“Come on, Mattie,” Call mounted Hellbitch and held out a hand to pull her up behind him. “He’s just tired. He knows you didn’t mean anythin’ by it.” But he frowned as he saw the stiff set of Luther’s back as he rode away.

Austin settled Caroline onto his horse and came up behind her. She leaned back against him as he pulled her against his chest. She smiled when Austin whispered something in her ear.

Bowing to the inevitable, Clay helped Amanda mount his horse and then came up behind her. “I still want to know what you told that...creature,” he hissed in her ear.

Amanda looked at Clay innocently. “I just said what I had to do to get us out of there, Clay,” she batted her eyelashes. “But if you want, I can tell her the truth.”

“The truth,” Clay sighed. “I presume that you have some passin’ knowledge of it.” He nudged his horse forward.

“How did it feel, Clay?” Amanda teased after a moment. “I’ve seen you look at women just the way those women were looking at you.”

Clay glanced down at her sharply catching the twinkle in her eyes. “How amusin’, Amanda,” he drawled deciding to forget the entire subject. “I’m certainly happy you were able to find some humor in all this.”

“Never you mind, Clay,” Amanda grinned as she patted his arm. “I’ll protect you from her if she comes looking for you again.”

The End

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